FERGUSON, Missouri: An unarmed black teenager whose killing by a white police officer has set off a week of protests and rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, was struck by at least six bullets, a lawyer for the deceased’s family said yesterday.
The path of one bullet indicates 18-year-old Michael Brown may have been lowering his head in surrender when the fatal shot hit, said Daryl Parks, the family’s lawyer.
Many details surrounding the shooting remain unclear, and federal and local officials have yet to release their own autopsy report.
Parks said the autopsy results clearly showed that the police officer who killed Brown should be arrested. He presented the results at a press conference showing that one bullet hit Brown in the “very top of his head” and another that struck his head exited near his eye.
“His head was in a downward position,” Parks said. “Given those kind of facts, this officer should have been arrested.”
The Brown family and protesters from around the United States have called for the officer’s arrest for days. But police have said only that 28-year-old officer Darren Wilson was put on paid administrative leave after the August 9 shooting.
St Louis County Police spokesman Brian Schellman did not respond to a query about why the officer had not been arrested. The department is running a parallel investigation to one by the US Department of Justice, which is evaluating the shooting for civil rights violations.
The lack of an arrest, and the Ferguson police department’s reluctance to release details of the shooting have brought thousands of protesters to the streets of the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, whose population of about 21,000 is largely black.
Some rioting and looting has accompanied the protests. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon deployed National Guard troops to Ferguson yesterday to try to restore calm.
On Saturday, Nixon declared a state of emergency there and set a curfew calling for the streets to be cleared from midnight until 5am (0500 to 1000 GMT).
Schools in the area were ordered closed yesterday because of the chaos in and around the town.
President Barack Obama met Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday afternoon to discuss the Ferguson situation, his office said.
The Brown family has called for peaceful demonstrations and an end to violence, and the police forces on the ground have been widely criticised for using excessive force on protesters.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, spoke out yesterday in a televised interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” programme. She said peace could be restored “with justice... arresting this man and making him accountable for his action.”
The private autopsy provides some answers, but not all, the family’s lawyers said.
They said Brown’s body did not show any signs that he had struggled with the officer and that there was no gunshot residue on the body, indicating Brown was probably at least a few feet away from the gun when he was shot.
The lawyers said they did not yet have access to clothing that might show gunshot residue, X-rays taken when the county did the first autopsy on Brown’s body, or toxicology results, which the county has thus far not released.
Police have given few details of the police officer’s version of events. The officer remains in hiding, and police say he has been threatened.
What police have said so far is that Brown and a friend were walking down the middle of a road that runs between a handful of apartment buildings shortly after noon when Wilson asked the two to move off the narrow road and onto a sidewalk. Police said Wilson reported that Brown reached into his patrol car and struggled for his service gun when Wilson fired the initial shot.
Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson, 22, said Wilson had reached out through his car window to grab at Brown and that the teenager was trying to get away when he was shot. Brown held up his hands in a sign of surrender, but Wilson got out of his patrol car and shot him several more times, they said.
Another witness, Piaget Crenshaw, told CNN that she also had seen the officer acting as though he was trying to pull Brown into the car through the window. Brown broke free and started running, she said.
“He got away,” Crenshaw said. “It just seemed to have upset the officer. He got out and just started chasing the boy.”
Brown at one point turned around to face the officer, and “when he turned toward the cop is when he... let off the most shots,” she said.
Crenshaw’s cellphone and video of the aftermath of the shooting were taken by police as evidence, she told Reuters.
An online petition is calling for the firing of Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, who refused to identify Wilson as the officer involved until five days after the incident.
Jackson also raised the ire of the Brown family and its supporters for releasing police reports showing that the teen was a suspect in the theft of cigars from a neighbourhood convenience mart. The family called this a “smear” campaign.
Jackson later said the officer did not know Brown was a robbery suspect when he shot Brown and that the incident was tied only to Wilson’s request that he move out of the street.